Saturday, October 04, 2014

OVP: Foreign Language Film (2013)

OVP: Best Foreign Language Film (2013)

The Nominees Were...

The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium
The Great Beauty, Italy
The Hunt, Denmark
The Missing Picture, Cambodia
Omar, Palestine

My Thoughts: Considering that this has been the week of the foreign-language film on the blog, it seems fitting that we continue on the 2013 OVP with a look at the five films from 2013 that received nominations for the category, and crown one an OVP winner before we get into the "Big 8" races for the year (and also because I'm not too far off from finishing the 2008 OVP, in which case we'll be restarting with our sixth year!).

The Great Beauty was probably the biggest surprise for me of 2013, at least in terms of movies that I ended up loving but didn't anticipate doing so.  Fellini films and their facsimiles are, in my opinion, a dime a dozen and frequently fall flat with the anguished genius that the Great Italian found himself surrounded with (even then, he occasionally couldn't quite make it there, but he got enough Oscar nominations that we'll discover that eventually).  That being said, The Great Beauty is one of those rare films that lives up to the original author's goals, as Paolo Sorrentino manages to find a canvas to paint the great questions upon.  What is the meaning of life?  What is the role of beauty in the world?  What should we have learned when we grow older?  Why is old age so defined by regret?  It's a series of very important philosophical quandaries told with a strong central performance by Toni Servillo and a gorgeous collection of cinematography and images, making the film almost function as a silent picture.  Few recent winners of the Oscar have been able to compete with a movie this big and artistically successful.

The Broken Circle Breakdown also finds itself asking a series of questions about life, love, and particularly the role of God in our world (PS-aren't you happy with this new experiment regarding the "winnowing" process for the Foreign Language films-regardless of quality, it feels like we're definitely getting more interesting films nominated), but this film is far better at its domestic drama aspects than answering these larger questions.  The first half of the film, in some ways mirroring the excellent Blue Valentine, shows both the beginning of a relationship and the slow dwindling end of it, with their daughter suffering through a childhood cancer in the future.  The film is never as successful in the second half, when its characters begin to contradict themselves and the ending seems to not jive with the earlier scenes, particularly in regard to religion, but there's no denying there's artistry and substance happening here, and the chemistry between the two leads is strong.

There's also artistry on display in The Missing Picture, one of those surprises to be nominated, as it is a documentary using clay figures to represent the haunting Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide.  This particular trope nearly always works-it's soothing and yet deeply disturbing, because you know that these figures represent hundred of real-life people who died and were murdered during this period.  However, the film itself is insanely boring and slow, to the point where a ninety-minute documentary feels like it has stretched for days.  There's no denying the artistry, but come on-couldn't Rithy Panh have found some way to keep the audience more involved in what was going on onscreen?

I felt a similar way about The Hunt, Denmark's nominee last year.  The film itself was not particularly good-the acting was stilted, and Mads Mikkelsen is the only actor that seems to well, know how to act in the picture.  The writing was cliched and the eventual plotting was disappointing, though it certainly kept the thriller-like atmosphere throughout the movie.  The actual plot and social commentary about how we are all judged in the court of public opinion, regardless of what the law says, is fascinating and terrifying, but the movie itself is just okay, and doesn't age as well in your memory the further you get from it, which I always consider a sign of weakness for a picture.

The same can't quite be said for Omar, where the thriller aspects of the film such as the central performance by Adam Bakri (effervescing the sort of sexiness and swagger that, were this an American picture, we'd be seeing him quickly on the cover of GQ) overpower the weaker elements of the movie.  The film still has problems (the central obsession on the bland but beautiful Nadia being a key one, the ending being the other), but it's a pretty strong genre picture, though I don't think that the Academy nominated it for that reason.  Overall, it's one of those films that you feel like you'd probably watch again, which is something this category rarely finds itself nominating.

Other Precursor Contenders: Awards ceremonies like the Goyas and the Davids aren't good representatives here since it's typically honoring the main films of a specific country, so I usually only count the Globes amongst the awards bodies we check-in with for Foreign Language film.  In this case, they too went with The Great Beauty for best picture, also nominating Blue is the Warmest Color, The Hunt, The Past, and The Wind Rises.
Films I Would Have Nominated: I know it wasn't eligible due to some arbitrary release date rules, but the Academy needs to figure out a way around that when a movie is as strong as Blue is the Warmest Color, one of the finest pictures I saw all of last year, regardless of the language.
Oscar’s Choice: Oscar followed suit with HFPA and gave it to the Italians, probably just over the Danish and the Belgians.
My Choice: Without Blue is the Warmest in the race, this is an easy decision in favor of The Great Beauty (which means, for the record, that we have yet to give a country two trophies, though 2008 has previous OVP winners Austria and Germany in competition).  I'd follow that with The Broken Circle Breakdown, Omar, The Hunt, and The Missing Picture.

Those are my thoughts-what about you?  Has anyone seen all five of these films?  If so, what were your favorites?  Were you with the Academy and myself on cheering for The Great Beauty, or were you on the side of another picture?  Did anyone thoroughly enjoy The Missing Picture, and can they explain what I am clearly missing?  And what was the best foreign language film of 2013?  Share in the comments!

Past Best Foreign Language Film Contests: 2009, 201020112012

No comments: